Monday, March 3, 2008

Madrid: Day 2... What Happened

So on Saturday, we wanted to get an early start on the day because there are just so many things that we want to do and only just under 3 days to do them. We got up early and headed out for breakfast at a little cervezeria around the corner from our hostal on Calle de Jesus (and with a big ol’ Catholic church on the block that had hundreds of people lined up around the block for at least 6 hours that we know of on Friday, the street is well named!). After some churros (fried breadsticks kinda like donuts but not as sweet) and a couple of espressos, we started walking over to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.

We decided to walk down the Paseo del Prado, which is just the big boulevard that runs beside the Prado museum to Atocha terminal (the site of the March 11, 2004 terrorist attacks) and to the Reina Sofia. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny. We were about halfway there when we saw a bunch of people looking at something in a courtyard in front of an office building, taking pictures. As we got closer, we discovered that it was an installation of sculptures by an artist, Igor Mitoraj. They’re huge bronzes that look like that they’re ruins of sculptures from ancient Greece or Rome: classical nudes, winged figures, remnants of faces and torsos. What was remarkable about these sculptures is that Catherine and I had actually first seen them in 2004 in Paris: they were lining the pathway through the Jardin du Tuilleries toward the Louvre (see the photo above). That had been the day we fell completely in love with Paris, so you can imagine what a shock it was to see them again here in Madrid!

At the Reina Sofia, we found another Paris/Madrid coincidence: that same visit in 2004, we had visited and thoroughly enjoyed the collection at the Musée Picasso, which held an incredible array of Picasso’s work through the different periods (and different women) in his life. It turned out that the special exhibit at the Reina Sofia was the visiting collection from the Picasso in Paris. How many times do you get to see the same works of art in two cities in two different countries? The Reina Sofia’s permanent collection is amazing, as well: it’s entirely modern art—primarily early to mid-20th century but they had a substantial number of more recent works—and the range of work was truly awe-inspiring. Catherine and I always say that we have a 3-hour time limit on any museum visit and, by and large, we follow that. After 2 hours here, we relized that we’d made it through less than half the collection and just didn’t have the stamina to go another 2. So we did the museum equivalent of speed reading: we walked through the rest of the museum, looked at everything, and stopped periodically to really take in a particular work.

Fortunately, Picasso’s Guernica was during the first two hours; we spent several minutes just trying to take in the whole of the work. While I’d certainly known it would be amazing from pictures I’d seen of it, there’s just something about being in this enormous room with a painting of that size, strength and powerful emotion. Catherine said that it made her realize one of the advantages of abstraction: it allows the artist to take emotions and exaggerate them beyond any sense of reality without losing our raw connections to those feelings. I think she’s absolutely right.

Our next stop was the Estación de Atocha, across the street from the museum. We arrived just as the maintenance crews were using misters mounted on 30-foot poles to water the tropical garden that fills about half of the space in the middle of the terminal. It's an incredible site and made the huge building incredibly humid! At one end there was a pond with dozens of turtles climbing up on rocks and tree trunks to, we guess, enjoy the sun and mist. This main terminal is architecturally and aesthetically beautiful. Beyond this building is the more modern construction with ticket booths, shops and platforms for the metro, commuter rails and high-speed trains. This wing was very much like the current Penn Station in New York: it’s efficient, easy to maintain and absolutely devoid of any aesthetic pleasure.

We had some trouble finding the memorial to the March 11 victims: there weren’t any permanent signs at all and we walked past a sandwich board with a laser copied text and an arrow pointing the direction. The memorial itself is very simple: a glass panel with the victims’ names etched into it and a large, low-ceilinged blue room with a glass brick tower raising from the ceiling to about 25’ above street level. Inside the tower, a clear plastic membrane has texts from notes left at the site by people from all over the world. We both really admired the memorial and thought it was a great tribute; I hope the World Trade Center memorial will be as successful.

After lunch, we wandered back to our hotel to nap a little before we went to see the play at the Circulo de Belles Artes. It was by Pablo Picasso (our theme for the day, it seemed), called El Deseo Atrapado de la Cola (Desire Caught by the Tail). Two companies collaborated on the production, El Centro Andaluz Teatro and Teatro del Velador, both from Andalucía. The production was part of an arts festival at Belles Artes of companies from around Spain. Because it was in Spanish, of course, I can’t really comment of the play itself, but Catherine and I are going to get a copy of the script to see how much of the production was in the script and how much of it the company invented. The production reminded me very much of Pig Iron Theater Company in Philadelphia: very strong, very precise, physically-demanding performances (one woman climbed a pair of drapes onstage and did circus acrobatics on them—Peter Petralia had used this in his play Three Ring, so I'd seen it before, but it's still amazing to watch) with a strong concept for the production. Several of the actors played characters who were physically or mentally challenged and it was almost surprising when they finally stepped out of their characters for their bows. I’d love to see their work again and see how this piece compares to another.

For dinner, we wandered through Chueca, just north of where we were staying. This is an area with lots of clubs and bars, apparently a large gay community. It was certainly hopping on a Saturday night: it took us almost an hour to find someplace to eat. We found a nouveau Mexican place, Tepic, that sounded interesting. The food was very good but this is where I opened up my bag to get something and forgot to close it again. I have no idea when someone took the Palm PDA out of the pocket—even though it was about 11pm by the time we left, it felt so early compared to getting home at 2:30 am the night before that we decided to do some nighttime sight seeing. It wasn’t until around 12:00 when we were having a nightcap at an Irish bar near our hostal that I noticed it missing. We went back to the restaurant in the hope that it might have just fallen out there but no such luck. So now the trip is a lot more expensive than we expected, since I have to replace that…. And by the time we finally got home, it was almost 3 am again and I was too tired to blog that night!

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